The Masada Incident (Israel: Part 9)

ABSTRACT: Sweat and tears have been a constant on this vacation. Now, blood completes the trio.

The photos from this album are wholly in Album “Chamesh,” right HERE.

Thursday, July 28 / Chamishi, 26 Tammuz

I heard Aaron’s alarm at 345h, because I didn’t set mine (evil laugh).  After a minute, I jumped (almost literally) out of the bed and filled my water bottle and CamelBak outside the tent.  I went to the restroom and equipped the Boulevard Lakefront Tour T-shirt and shorts that I got from Stein-Mart the day before visiting Northwestern in 2009.   Near the place where clothes were hanging yesterday, I saw the “graham” crackers and tea, enjoying both.  I surprised myself that I was awake and aware with so little sleep overnight.  Everyone else looked really tired.  Of course, 3.5 hours of sleep beats one hour.  I just hope that I don’t suffer an energy crash in the middle of the day.

In the bus, I rode next to Liz.  The drive was uneventful, and the only photos I took were [789-790] before we got rolling.  The steps up were pretty steep in places, but of course I was enthusiastically calling out the steps and cautions.  We had plenty of time, and got to the top of Masada easily.  Up there, since it has been a week since we arrived (minus a few hours, but who’s counting?) and we repeated our very first activity: “Akhim Simkha!”   Until we started, I had forgotten that the first word is not “Akhim”, but instead “Aaaaaahhhhhhhkhim!”  Then, photos of the pre-dawn sky were taken, in which the flash made it look like a sunSET.  Without flash, the pictures either looked like fake backdrops or like mid-day.  Go figure!  [793-822].

As the sun rose, it was further picture city!  I had overextended my welcome with the photos, so only took [823-825].  However, if I recall correctly, I got into some others’ photos too.  The time was 555h, and we were called to another part on Masada… under a canopy with shade!  A diorama of the area was given, with an opportunity to show the map.  Unfortunately, there was no Dan contortionism this time :p .  The geography of the area was explained: the Jordan River connects the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea.  As a result of continental drift, the two seas formed, as well as these mountains.  The isolation was a good thing for some people, as will be described later.  The photos were [826-832].

We walked around the south wall without a lot of haste, but Nitzan was trying to hurry us up.  Dwellings, cisterns, and other structures were apparent [833-841].  Once at the southwest corner of the mountain, a great view was there, but I only got one shot of the area [842].  We yelled at the rocks, “SHORASHIM!” A great echo came back… very interesting to say the least!

Moving back the way we came, a stairwell was doubled up on.  We descended the narrow stairs into a tall cavern [843-848], sitting down on the sand and rocks that were there.  We learnt that it is (was?) a cistern that held water.  I guess that does make sense at a second glance of the area.  In this cavern, the story of the end of Masada started.  When the Great Revolution of 66 CE started, King Herod fled to Masada, and the Sicarii, a sect of radical Jews, followed.  Before we left, Lina sang a “Hallelujah” song that sounded familiar to me [849].

While continuing atop Masada, I lost my bearings, but following Dan and Nitzan is the most important part since they should know where they’re going!  Around here, black lines denote the origin of stones, particularly where excavation has occurred.  The west area [850-859] had guardrails at points where the Romans had broken through the walls on their siege.  The story continued, quoted from Josephus, who was a copious note-taker on Jewish history from that time.  Everyone joked that he could have been my ancestor.  You never know: he could be my great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandfather!  [That’s CTRL+C, CTRL+V for the win! Of course, now that word “great” looks weird to me.]  After the wall was broken down, the Sicarii hatched up a desperate plan, to be described on the next stop.

The next stop was beit ha-k’nesset [860-866].  Although it implies “synagogue,” it literally means “house of meeting.”  Since the Temple existed until the last three years of Jewish dominion over Masada, synagogues used to be more like social halls than places of worship.  In the back room of the synagogue, buried scrolls were found, and the scrolls were found to have The Name on them.  To finish the story, the Sicarii refused to surrender or convert as the Romans had breached Masada.  Their action: of the 960 people there, kill all but twelve by their own hands only.  Then, based off lots, one kills the remaining 11 before killing himself.

Of course, this leaves a lot of questions.  How reliable was Josephus’s account of the situation?  Was the list of 12 names found maybe not the last 12 survivors?  What other twists in the story are possible?  Scepticism about history helps avoid bias that can come from certain primary sources.  Heading a little further toward the mountaintop restrooms (which I would assume were a modern construction), we waited for everyone to finish before heading back down the Roman ramp.  We were originally going to take the “snake path” down, but we were told that it will be too hot.   The “danger-falling stones” sign was a good warning for our descent [867], and as I descended past a turn-around, in between two sub-groups, I turned the camera on myself and got a new “down” perspective [868-869].

But shortly afterward, I tripped on one of the steps, falling bottom-first, and hitting my right arm on the side of Masada (rocks!)  The others around asked if I was OK, I said yes, but then as I stood up, blood squirted from my arm all over!  I wasn’t in pain, but was clearly shocked.  As Paul stabilized me, holding my arm, and I sat down to prevent fainting, Alon appeared a minute or two later.  The others moved on, and Dan & Alon assured me I would be fine.  Upon hearing that, I perked right up to my usual self, and needed no assistance down the hill.  Can’t let a small injury like that reduce my smile and chipperness!

At the base, everyone was eating breakfast and as I approached, the group gave me a standing ovation as I took a bow, tipping my cap.  I think they were surprised that I appeared fine, but non-painful injuries don’t put me in acute distress!  You can see this in one of the pictures taken of me [870]!  (If anyone else took pictures of this ordeal, please let me know.  I’d like to see them!)  Obviously, I was delaying everyone, as I had to eat too, and I stayed hydrated with SHOCK milk, 7-up, and water.

My reward for the injury: promotion to one of the best seats in the bus!  I did have to lose my spot next to Liz, but we’ll try again soon.  I actually managed to capture some road signs this time, although some of these pictures look really convex [871-879].  Did a setting on my camera change on the fall?  Of course, doing it with one hand was awkward.  Like usual, we did misparay barzel l’hitpakeid, and when I enthusiastically shouted, “ESRIM V’AKHAT!”, some applause took place.  I’m still normal… whatever MY normal means!  In Arad, there were no carousels around the rotaries this time, but we got to an urgent-care clinic for assessment of the situation.  There, I got a picture with Alon [880-881].  My mind wasn’t racing for some reason, but at this point, the bladder was a worse problem than the arm—I had to go twice in 20 minutes!

The result: I have to go to the hospital in Be’er Sheva in order to get stitches.  So, they called a cab for Dan and me to take there.  After taking a few photos leaving Arad [882-883], I took a Speed Sleep, hoping to regain some missed shut-eye from “earlier today.”  I didn’t say “last night,” since I didn’t fall asleep until after midnight.  This was good timing, as the drive was a “slightly long” forty minutes.  I got a poor picture of the hospital façade, because the cab driver was in the way [884-886].  For obvious reasons, I took no pictures inside the hospital.

Dan checked me in, and the wait was long with no journal allowed to me (I probably shouldn’t do any writing until I get a doc’s recommendation, since the damaged arm is the writing arm).  I had to urinate every ten or so minutes, but it was clear (pun intended) that I was sufficiently hydrated.  While waiting, I thought of some co-incidental things.  Two of the singers in the talent show had to go to hospitals.  I’d better protect Mike since he also sang in the talent show!  Also, the people of whom I received contact information at the orientation all have required medical attention from Alon thus far.  Even though I know they’re all co-incidences, it’s still quite weird.  Oh, and that the last time I needed stitches was almost exactly 36 months ago, when my leg took the rock attack on Touzalin Boulevard as I biked.
While waiting, all sorts of people were in the outside waiting room: IDF soldiers who were clearly armed, Israelis, Muslims, and more.  The wait turned out to not be TOO long, but it just felt that way.  After getting called, I went into the triage room, and then to another waiting room.  I looked at a newspaper, but of course understood nothing inside since it was all in Hebrew.  I could hear screams of pain, but I know my situation won’t be bad.  After all, laughter and a positive attitude is excellent medicine!  The camera time stamps that I saw implied that I was at the hospital for about one hour and 15 minutes.  I ended up requiring three staples and a tetanus shot.  The thing that stung/hurt the most was the anti-septic soap that I had to apply myself.  The staples didn’t hurt that badly!  No numbing or analgesic was required.  So, for those of you keeping track at home, that means the score is now Noah 2, Rock-based Injuries 0.

As we left, we were told to take a left and another left to find some places to eat.  This led nowhere, but that is good.  I am now officially Weiss Vacation™–it’s not one of those until we get lost!  It was cool to get a few pictures of the place, with the glass buildings, fountains, and more [887-891].  Lunch was at Falafel Yerushalayim [892-893], which was behind a Paz gas station.  I got the spicy turkey schwarma, and it was good.  Naturally, though, as my mind was now racing (thankfully not upsetting my stomach), I suffered from a little bit of anorexia.  Still, I felt better when we were actually moving about than when I was stationary.  Eventually, Avi from the Shorashim office came.

On the road, I got the shotgun seat and we saw more tent protests [894], and several pictures that were partially occluded [895-897].  Some other interesting sights and signs appeared on this road trip, including a crash and some nice scenery [898-906].  I scored no camels, yet no false alarms in the camel game.  The conversations were random, and I don’t recall all of them.  He sped on the road by a good clip, but Dan told me that Chayim does as well.  My energy level diminished—maybe my adrenaline has worn off, maybe I just can’t sit still right now, or maybe something else is the case.

Before re-uniting with the group, we stopped at the Shorashim office, of which I only took a few pictures from the outside [907-908].  I used the restroom (what’s new?) as Dan chatted with the people there.  I failed to snap other pictures, but they gave me some old Taglit T-shirts that I may wear when I get back to Chicago.  As we drove to reunite with the group, I prompted Mom to call me, and she did.  I gave her the quick rundown of the vacation so far without many details.  The drive was to a mall in Ma’ale Adumim (?) [909-914].  Everyone was happy to have me back, and I was very glad to be back as well.

It was a quick trip (a short twenty minutes) to Almog.  The “sea level” signs we passed were neat, as if it were a landmark [915-916].  Once there, we checked into our rooms, and I journaled for a little while, before taking ANOTHER Speed Sleep–I think this is the first time I’ve used it twice in one day!  With Gleb watching TV, my productivity naturally plummeted further.  At least I made a dent in it!

I went to the dining hall at 1930h, and had green beans, soup, and chicken.  Prior to dinner, everyone was congregating around some activity that looked in [918-919] like a fake proposal.  (If anyone remembers what it actually was, please let me know.)  The food was good, but my mentally-induced anorexia continued to guarantee I wouldn’t eat much.  Michelle, the Goldsher siblings, Dina, Gleb, and Eric joined me.  Of course, I forgot all the conversation details, and I want to finish the journal soon anyway. (I didn’t get to actually writing this part until the vacation had already ended!)  As we were finishing dinner, another group across the way, who was evidently a group of undergrads from Britain, were raucously chanting Birkat Ha-Mazon… even more fortissimo than at KOACH Kallah!

We proceeded to a small assembly room in its own building [920-921] and our group activity was Israeli songs with Udi Krauss [MISS].  He is a Shorashim alumnus, and told us, “Forty minutes is a standard time unit in Shorashim.”  Lots of jokes were further made, and the jokes frequently involved the words “fricken’ free” and “damn Jews” in a facetious sense… with all the funny stereotypes.  The first song we sang was “Mah Karah Lakh”, and we (the audience) participated by saying “Doon-doon-chaka-chaka” style beats the whole song.  When I later saw the song on YouTube, I found it interesting that that is actually done in the song too—it wasn’t simply an a-cappella thing for our show!

Next, “Mah Od Bekosht” (What More Do You Want From Me) was played, and he mentioned that most of these songs seem to be about women to some extent.  The next song was “Hagshama Atzmit,” of which I really liked the nigun to.  I had no idea what it was actually saying, but do I ever pay attention to the meanings of the lyrics?  Of course not!  International tunes (i.e. nigunim) are consistently more compelling to me than American tunes.

The next song was “Jonny Ba,” which refers to a friend of the composer.  It was lively and enjoyable.  Like usual, in any concert or performance, an encore exists, and we did Od Yavo Shalom Aleinu, while circling up into a hora and accelerando on each iteration.  This was a lot of fun, but the harmony of the group and all the thoughts going through my head caused my eyes to well up in joy.  Gee—it seems I AM a Pitlor offspring!

We returned temporarily to the rooms, discussing all the plans for the gifts to give to Dan, Aaron, and Nitzan, deciding on Kiddush cups and jewelry.  Then, we headed off to the pub [922-925] and like usual, I had only water.  However, I had to get it from a sink… they didn’t have water on tap!  Despite the music being nothing but American garbage, I enjoyed the situation nonetheless, and jammed to the songs with my “generic” moves.  Lisa invited all the ladies to take a picture with me, and Laura said, “Noah’s a ladies’ man!”  I responded, “The ladies’ man need not be a bad boy!”

As the night dragged on, I got into a conversation with Lisa as we sat out the dancing.  Conversation topics ranged from scenic bike rides to music and dancing, jobs, and bravery (related to her cancer treatments and my injury).  As it neared midnight, both of us got tired, and decided to walk back to the rooms, me leading with my head lamp.  I walked with her to Room 319, and afterward saw Dan and Aaron, chatting with them for a little while.  Some advice: On Sunday, stay awake as long as it’s light, so as not to disrupt your rhythm.  That’s good advice for me to take.  I returned to Room 303 and fell asleep at 0030h.

>> TO BE CONTINUED…

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